Career story: studying sustainable finance as an environmentalist

22 April, 2022Juno Baker

Marina Antonopoulou works for the environmental non-governmental organisation, Emirates Nature in association with the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) in the UAE. Marina is a graduate from the second cohort of the Executive Certificate in Sustainable Finance delivered in partnership with ADGM Academy. So what made her study our Executive programme? And how is she using it in her work?

Oryxes in the UAE desertWWF has traditionally worked on the ground with local stakeholders and communities to protect biodiversity.

Over the last decade however, it’s increasingly engaged with policymakers, the private sector and financial institutions to advance policies and plans that help accelerate nature and climate action in the context of economic development.

Globally, as well as in the UAE, says Marina Antonopoulou, “Financial flows have started to change. So requirements are changing, public and corporate interests are changing. There’s a lot of pressure and interest to move towards a more sustainable model.”

At the same time, WWF in the UAE is embarking on a new project to find partners and create suitable mechanisms to invest in nature.

That means looking at barriers and opportunities, but also how to design certain projects in a way that not only bring positive impact on biodiversity and climate but are also attractive to investors.

“How can we create sustainable enterprises whose focus is nature based?” says Marina, “where there’s a revenue stream as well as benefits for biodiversity and the climate?”

Marina realised to do this – and to engage with institutions and potential partners – she needed to understand “the universe of sustainable finance”.

Studying sustainable finance

While studying the programme delivered in partnership with ADGM Academy, Marina found herself in a cohort of executive participants from different sectors – private, finance, engineering and small to medium enterprises.

“I liked that a lot! We were sharing perspectives with each other with a lot of new information and discussions. As expected, there was a lot of learning for me. And I enjoyed the interactive way of teaching the topics.”

As a non-finance professional, Marina was expecting it to be challenging for her to navigate through information related to financial institutions and regulations, “but I did get the foundations that are relevant to me.”

It helped that the professors on the course were “like engines of knowledge”.

“They’re also eager to discuss so many things. They were very open. The content was quite rich and access to the platform was useful, with multiple resources for us to tap into”

Marina found herself looking at environmental issues from different perspectives.

“It was interesting for me to see how the financial sector is perceiving sustainability and understand key drivers for financial institutions to mainstream climate risks and opportunities in their decision making,” she says.  “It was great to see that it’s increasingly understood that climate poses a systemic risk for market and the economies. Of course, there are a lot of opportunities linked with climate action and hopefully the finance sector can help us unlock these.”

It was also useful to understand how banks can facilitate change.

“I grasped more the mechanics – what banks bank might be interested in when financing projects and what the potential challenges and risks could be for them.”

Using sustainable finance at an NGO

Marina is using her new knowledge in the projects at WWF.

“The learning from the course helps me understand the background so together with a multidisciplinary team working on the project, we can  design and implement the project better looking for the relevant partnerships.”

She’s also found it useful to think more like a banker.

“We had an assignment to develop a case study and recommendations to present to the chief executives of a hypothetical bank,” she explains. “It forced me to start thinking how I’d be thinking if I was working for a bank and to apply certain information through that lense.”

This helps when Marina talks to potential partners and stakeholders who don’t have biodiversity and climate as a priority.

“I can converse more confidently on relevant topics, where before I’d be a little more hesitant. It’s important to start speaking the same language and using the same lexicon.”

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Watch the Sustainable Finance in Action series at our Centre for Sustainable Finance